Curator of Tate Britain’s Richard Deacon show, Clarrie Wallis, takes time out of installing the British sculptor’s work to reveal what it's like to slot sculpture together, and how cereal packets come in handy
Installing sculpture is great fun. Tate has a fantastic team of technicians and conservators. To install the show at Tate Britain we have also enlisted the help of two of Richard Deacon’s long-term collaborators – Matthew Perry, who has worked with him for 30 years, and Niels Dietrich, at whose ceramics studio in Cologne Richard makes his clay pieces. There are about 30 works in the show. Among the monumental sculptures are the flowing contours of wood-laminated works, such as Blind Deaf and Dumb A made in 1985, galvanised steel sculptures and some improbably large ceramics.
Richard belongs to a generation of British sculptors who came to prominence in the 1980s, and his work has been collected by major museums and collectors throughout the world. A number of works in Tate’s collection are in the exhibition in addition to loans from the continent and the USA.
I’m particularly excited to bring together two of Richard’s large wooden works from the 1980s and to see Out of Order, another wooden piece from 2003. They highlight how adept Richard and Matthew Perry are in handling wood and exploiting its different qualities.
While formulating ideas as to how to approach the selection I really enjoyed making models of the sculptures from pipe cleaners, cornflake packets and plasticine. They have been incredibly useful as a three-dimensional working tool. It’s always exciting to watch a work come out of its crate and see how, piece by piece, the show gradually takes shape. Each day is different when putting a show together and there is always a huge variety of jobs to do. These range from making decisions about the specific placement of works, to working with colleagues in Tate’s Learning and Press departments on last-minute details.
Once the installation is finished, I’m looking forward to walking through the galleries on my own before the private view, remembering the conversations Richard and I have had over the last two years and reviewing how the show has come together. Richard has regularly exhibited his work at the Lisson Gallery but this is his first major exhibition in a public institution in London since his Whitechapel Gallery show in 1988. I hope our show will highlight the importance and variety of his practice and introduce his work to new audiences.
Richard Deacon is at Tate Britain from 5 February – 27 April 2014
Interview by Susan Holtham